Decadal-scale changes of nitrate in ground water of the United States, 1988-2004

J Environ Qual. 2008 Sep-Oct;37(5 Suppl):S240-8. doi: 10.2134/jeq2007.0055.


This study evaluated decadal-scale changes of nitrate concentrations in ground water samples collected by the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment Program from 495 wells in 24 well networks across the USA in predominantly agricultural areas. Each well network was sampled once during 1988-1995 and resampled once during 2000-2004. Statistical tests of decadal-scale changes of nitrate concentrations in water from all 495 wells combined indicate there is a significant increase in nitrate concentrations in the data set as a whole. Eight out of the 24 well networks, or about 33%, had significant changes of nitrate concentrations. Of the eight well networks with significant decadal-scale changes of nitrate, all except one, the Willamette Valley of Oregon, had increasing nitrate concentrations. Median nitrate concentrations of three of those eight well networks increased above the USEPA maximum contaminant level of 10 mg L(-1). Nitrate in water from wells with reduced conditions had significantly smaller decadal-scale changes in nitrate concentrations than oxidized and mixed waters. A subset of wells had data on ground water recharge date; nitrate concentrations increased in response to the increase of N fertilizer use since about 1950. Determining ground water recharge dates is an important component of a ground water trends investigation because recharge dates provide a link between changes in ground water quality and changes in land-use practices.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / trends
  • Fresh Water / analysis*
  • Nitrates / analysis*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Time Factors
  • United States
  • United States Government Agencies
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Water Pollution / statistics & numerical data*


  • Nitrates
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical